The Phoenix Year takes place in a short time frame – the summer, 2016 through December, 2016 – but it deals with likely events that start well before these dates. At the end of the novel, Russia is in turmoil with riots in Moscow leading to the exit, under fire, of the very conservative government elected after the long-time ruler, Czar of Russian politics, President Pyorsky. He has exited the country in advance of what he sees as its eminent collapse. He has, in a sense, run the country into the ground with his adventurism in the Caucus that has led to economic sanctions. This forces him to sell the gold as foreign investment that has dried up and as energy and mineral prices have declined. He leaves Russia for greener pastures in England with a view to living off the gains he made during his long tenure at the top of the Russian pyramid. He leaves the country in the hands of his very conservative successor Dubinsky. Dubinsky wins in a rigged election, and as Natalya returns after her week in Switzerland, the political landscape has changed. No longer able to protect her, her father, the ultimate fence sitter, survivor, and conspirator, Pyotr Avramowitz, is forced to watch as his strong, capable, daughter is destroyed by the Russian system. Pyotr gets Natalya out before she is fully destroyed.
In the end, the crackdown on dissent that began under Pyorsky grows worse, the situation in Russia is direst as the price of oil and gas falls to new lows with the slowdown in the emerging markets, especially China, and as new supplies from abundant American fields, starts to flow into Europe. Shemelev continues Pyorsky’s policy of secretly exchanging the Russian gold for foreign products needed to maintain the illusion that the country is prosperous and growing. When the gold is gone, the second Russian revolution starts with riots in Moscow as shortages in energy leave many parts of the city in darkness. The result is a more modern, and liberal Moscow revolting against the restrictions on free expression of the new government and the now obvious shortages in basic supplies of food, medicines, and even necessities like diapers for children.
How much of this is fiction or fact? President Putin has managed to do the impossible, isolate Russia from its natural roots in Western Europe. The good feelings of the Sochi Olympics faded as he annexed the Crimea. The riots in Kiev prompted further adventurism in Eastern Ukraine and more sanctions that have dried up foreign investment. So long as he can sell oil and gas at high prices he can maintain the fiction that life in Moscow and the major cities of Russia will remain virtually unchanged. In the fictional account of my novel, The Phoenix Year, President Pyorsky must do this by using up precious foreign exchange reserves, and at the same time start to crack down on dissent and public discourse through restrictions on the press, limits on the Internet and social media.
Much of the Russian parts of the novel were originally crafted in the earliest drafts, in the 1980’s. Much of the story remains even though it has been re-written and re-drafted over the years. For example, the sale of Russian gold secretly to keep the fiction of the Russian economy continuing to grow was there from the start. The reason for this is because the Russian economy has never fully transformed from the old Soviet economy of centralized planning to a new, open, free market and globalized economy of today after 1990. Therefore, there were all the seeds of business failure written in the underlying structure of an economy struggling to transform itself even as it finds riches such as minerals and energy. These riches, unless invested wisely, will, in the end, lead to a collapse as domestic manufacturing sector, the remnant of the old planned economy from Soviet days is overwhelmed by the less costly and better quality imports that oil and minerals wealth can buy and import.
The Phoenix Year is available now.